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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Benton Halstead: Cincinnati's Inventor of 'The First Typewriter'

Nineteen years and nine days after Christopher Latham Sholes had passed away in Milwaukee (on February 17, 1890), New York and Washington DC newspapers reported the death of the "inventor of the first working typewriter".
Confused? Well, so obviously were the newspapers which reported on the death of Cincinnati's Benton Halstead in Washington on February 26, 1919:
Washington Times, February 27, 1919
Washington Herald, February 27, 1919
 New York Tribune, February 27, 1919
Washington Times, February 28, 1919
The Colonies and India, February 7, 1891
Now, the Halstead claim is worth considering. At least two of his typewriters were made, in Atlanta, Georgia, before the burning of the city in September 1864. Halstead didn't patent his "improvement in type-writing machines" until 1872, but it seems certain his typewriters did beat Sholes's in being built by at least six years.
Halstead assigned his first typewriter patent to the famous Cincinnati Commercial journalist, chess writer and war correspondent Captain Joseph W. Miller (1838-1925), and it was Miller who would later take one of Halstead's brass typewriters with him to the St Louis Globe-Democrat, when Miller became its editorial writer in 1892.
German typewriter historian Ernst Martin, who also dates the Halstead machine to 1864, mentions that one of them was on display at the St Louis Globe-Democrat, as does a family historian, William Leon Halstead, in his 1934 book The Story of the Halsteads in the United States.
Martin adds that another machine, which he says was owned by Halstead's widow, Rowena Halstead, was intended for the National Museum in Washington. However, it would seem it never made it there.
Martin says the Halstead typewriter was completed in Atlanta on July 21, 1865, and was "used in his [law] office in Cincinnati, at 68 West Third Street". Halstead lived in Riverside.
Interestingly, Typewriter Topics did not mention Halstead's death in 1919, nor the inventor in its 1923 history of the typewriter. But a sister journal, Office Appliances: The Magazine of Office Equipment, did report his death, saying Halstead "was among the early inventors who worked on the problems of the typewriter." It also said his passing "had brought forth recollections" of "How one typewriter model developed".
Michael Adler described Halstead's typewriter as a "downstrike machine with a semi-circle of typebars at the rear and a piano keyboard at the front". "Typebars printed down on a flat paper carriage, weight driven, through a ribbon, and spacing was by means of a stirrup."
What neither Martin nor Adler mentioned is that Halstead applied for an unassigned second typewriter patent five years after the first, in March 1877:
Benton Halstead was born at Paddy's Run, outside Cincinnati, on March 11, 1834.  As a colonel in the Civil War, he led a regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Murat Halstead
His brother was Murat Halstead (1829-1908), a famous Cincinnati journalist, author and publisher who joined the Commercial in 1853, became its editor in 1865 and its president when it consolidated with Gazette in 1883. He wrote 3000-500o words a day, sometimes for 100 days consecutively during presidential campaigns. He moved to New York City and became editor of the Brooklyn Standard Union.
Benton Halstead's son Brigadier General Laurence Halstead DSM (1875-1953) was instrumental in developing the finger printing method that is used today for identification of criminals. Father and son are both buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Olivetti Lettera (Pluma) 22 - Carriage Not Gripping at Left Margin

As I've said before, it's hard trying to help someone fix their typewriter from thousands of miles away. It's harder still when we don't talk to same lingo.
Yes, we've had a few language difficulties, but bit by bit Francisco Pérez (country unknown to me) and I seem to be getting the problems with Francisco's grandfather's Olivetti Lettera (Pluma) 22 sorted out.
I think Francisco did a pretty good job fixing the mainspring and drawband, having taken the mainspring off the machine, opened its casing and (admittedly with the use of four hands) succeeded in getting the spring operational again.
But after putting the mainspring back on, re-attaching the drawband and replacing the mask, Francisco ran into another road bump. This is the one he filmed (above) - that is, of the carriage not gripping at the left margin.
Having watched the video, and after much thought (and based on past experience), I came to the suspicion that Francisco, in reassembling the Pluma 22, might have inadvertently created this new problem.
I think I've covered this before on this blog, but one has to be very careful when reassembling an early Lettera 22, to ensure these original margin release and tabulation mechanisms don't inherit some impediments in the process. (Olivetti changed this mechanism as the Lettera 22 advanced toward the Lettera 32.)
It's a fairly tight fit at the back of the mask, and experience tells me it's easy to upset these settings when fitting the mask back on.
I've suggested to Francisco that he take the mask off again and check the margin release and tabulation mechanisms against the photos I have sent him. Fingers crossed, he will find what is causing the problem of the carriage not gripping at the left margin.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Being Rob Messenger

- with apologies to Charlie Kaufman
These are some of the saddest and sorriest days in Australian political history. Not since the Australian Labor Party self-destructed almost precisely 60 years ago - ensuring 23 years of Conservative rule, 17 of them under a man dubbed Ming the Merciless and Big Iron Bob -  has there been such mindless turmoil.
Back then Australians couldn't break wind without vice-regal approval. Now you'd swear our chambers comprise 226 mad farts. The Federal Parliament is a rabble, the Senate a shambles. Not one of our politicians seems capable of enunciating a properly constructed sentence. The Prime Minister keeps repeating the predicate of his sentences, as if we didn't get it the first time. Oh we got it all right, worse luck. It's embarrassing.
No doubt he's frustrated. He can't enact legislation, so he keeps on breaking election promises. Things are so bad, Australians have asked for a swap. Some Americans might even agree to go along with it.
This appeared on Facebook.
In the latest prevarication, he's lashed out at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service, slashing funding to the only outlets which might offer even occasional sanity. He's been provoked, admittedly, by the ABC's response to accusations of Left-Wing bias - by having so-called "interviewers" shout even more loudly and rudely at politicians, for fear that viewers might actually get to hear what these people have to say. You never know, there might be a wise one in there somewhere.
Worse still, this is not a good time to be living in Australia with the name Robert Messenger. There are more than one of us, and one of them, I'm afraid to say, might never have used a typewriter, let alone owned one. What's more, this Rob Messenger is sitting smack bang in the middle of the one of the messiest and most pointless political confrontations going on in Australia right now.
Where's the typewrier?: Lambie, left, and Messenger
This Rob Messenger is the chief of staff for a Tasmanian politician called Jacqui Lambie, who was elected to the Senate on the ticket of the Palmer United Party. Journalists soon dubbed Clive Palmer's party "PUP", but since taking their seats, these newcomers to Canberra have been far from united - more like a pack of rabid, in-fighting mongrel dogs. Consequently, Palmer United is only contributing to dividing the nation.
Confusion about the two Rob Messengers started out as a bit of an in-joke among my friends. Now it's got serious. People are stopping me in the street asking whether I am that Rob Messenger. To which, invariably, I reply in song:
It ain't me, babe,
I said a no no no,
It ain't me babe,
It ain't me you're looking for, babe
This Rob Messenger once promoted a documentary called Suffering in Silence, which I find I can no longer do. So before this confusion spreads even further, let's get it straight. This Rob Messenger is NOT ME!
He was born in Bundaberg, Queensland, a place I have only occasionally visited, usually to play rugby in the early 90s (although I was once in the psychiatric ward at Bundaberg Base Hospital getting my head sorted out). He was born on October 26, 1962, 14½ years after I was born, a very great distance away in Greymouth, New Zealand. He became an electrician and was a National Party and later a Liberal Party member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly, which is to say that politically he was a red rag to my red flag bull.
The only vague connection I can find between us is that we both had Townsville-based girlfriends, although he married his (Fern). He was also engaged to a rock chick (Tarni Stephens), which I never managed:
After losing his seat as an independent in 2012 Queensland state election, he joined PUP in May last year and in April this was appointed Lambie's chief of staff. He was expelled from the party earlier this month, after Lambie became embroiled in disagreements with Palmer. Palmer is a billionaire, with iron ore, nickel and coal holdings, who, as a sort of hobby, in having an exact-size replica of the Titanic built in China.
Australo Politicus: As News Ltd cartoonist Bill Leak sees Mr Palmer, who has his own Jurassic Park, called "Palmersaurus".
So, what I am objecting to in being confused with this other Rob Messenger? Well, name confusions can have serious repercussions. Five years ago one of my then very young sons was illegally ambushed by a bailiff with a summons addressed to a Robert Messenger on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I was living in Canberra, and have never lived on the Sunshine Coast. The summons concerned the purchase of two Aboriginal paintings worth $3000. Naturally, I took the prosecuting solicitors to the Victorian Law Association.
In this case, my opposition is to a name association with what I consider to be a bunch of reactionaries, people who are doing nothing to help sort out Australia's political morass, but are merely adding to it. As one friend wrote today, "Have you any idea how relieved I was to learn that you are not the brains behind La Lambie?" It's a typical sample of the reactions to my "It ain't me, babe" cry, one of dozens I've received these past few weeks.
Imagine me being tied up with a political party which has this logo:
Typospherians should be well aware by now of my feelings about having a Union Jack of anything Australian. The other night, watching a news item on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to thousands of admirers in Sydney, I was enraged to see hundreds of these T-shirts:
Mr Modi (along with Barack Obama) was actually visiting Australia for the G20 meeting in Brisbane. He wasn't in Britain, as these T-shirts indicate. The trouble with our flag is that, when used in this way, all one can see is the Union Jack. Mr Modi's address was relayed to the masses in India, where tens of millions would have thought he was in London, not Sydney. Same goes for Mr Obama's talks in Brisbane:
Spot a distinctly Australian flag here? No? If there was ever an argument for taking the Union Jack off our flag, the G20 gathering unquestionably provided it. Even The Big Bang Theory is about to take the mickey out of our flag (although it must be said that Sheldon Cooper thinks the koala is a bear, and he's supposed to be smart!):
As I said, it's all too excruciatingly embarrassing! (Thank goodness they're ending the tired old "Fun with Flags" joke.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Facts About Typewriters - From 100 Years Ago

 Published 1914
Typewriters described in this booklet:
Underwood Nos 4 & 5
L.C.Smith Nos 2 & 5
Remington Nos 6 & 7
Remington Nos 10 & 11
Smith Premier Nos 2 & 4
Smith Premier No 10
Oliver No 3
Oliver No 5
Blickensderfer Nos 7 & 8
Blickensderfer No 6
Blickensderfer Home Model
Royal Standard Nos 1, 3 & 5
Monarch No 3
Hammond No 12